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Adobe helps tackle transactions

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Service provider CCEWeb moves millions of dollars between financial institutions and their importer/exporter customers, and an unlikely software program plays a key role in the process: Adobe Systems' Acrobat.

Toronto's CCEWeb handles Internet-based transactions for parties involved in international trade, including banks, shipping companies, customs brokers and insurance providers. The company's @GlobalTrade service combines credit card and bank payment functions with a document management system that tracks the progress of complex trade transactions. Along the way, Acrobatformatted documents, such as commercial invoices, letters of credit and insurance certificates, change hands.

Adobe has made a name for itself in cross-platform document sharing with its PDF, which preserves graphics features so a document looks the same when it's received as it did when it was sent - layouts, fonts and images intact. But Acrobat traditionally has not been thought of as a corporate software application.

These days, PDF is about much more than making forms look pretty. In Acrobat Version 5.0, released this spring, Adobe added a number of new features aimed at enterprise customers.

One of those features is XML support for Adobe's electronic forms, called eForms, says product manager David Baskerville. With eForms, authors can specify fields such as account or invoice number, and data sources such as Open Database Connectivity (ODBC)-compliant databases, so that content can be pulled from back-end data sources and used to populate electronic forms. Information contained in fields can be saved in XML format and also exported to ODBC databases at the other end of a transaction. Previous versions of Acrobat supported data export only in a proprietary Adobe format.

Adobe also enhanced Acrobat's collaborative features to enable parties to review and comment on PDF documents through Web browsers. Authorized viewers can add comments to a data repository such as a WebDAV server or an ODBC database. Previous versions allowed Web-browser access to PDF files, but annotation tools were not accessible in the browser window.

These are two of the features CCEWeb depends on for its transactions, which are traditionally "extremely paper intensive," says Nick Pachnev, president and CFO at CCEWeb.

The United Nations estimates $640 billion in paperwork is spent annually to process international trade deals, according to CCEWeb. Bringing the transactions online and enabling Web-based collaboration between parties cuts down on the amount of paperwork that needs to change hands every time a document is revised.

Acrobat graphic

The data tied up in the trade documentation - such as invoices, transport documents and payments - is critical to CCEWeb users; adding the ability to extract and reuse the data cuts down on the administrative chore of rekeying transactional data in financial applications, for example.

Currently, users can export Acrobat 5.0 data in Rich Text Format. A plug-in to export to XML is in beta release and is available on Adobe's Web site. The company has not determined when a final version of the XML plug-in will be available.

Enhanced security features in Acrobat 5.0 include support for 128-bit encryption and digital signatures. Better integration with software deployment systems from Tivoli and Microsoft makes it easier to deploy Acrobat to desktops in the 10,000 to 50,000 range, Baskerville says. With previous versions, individual installations from a CD were common, he says.

A single Acrobat 5.0 license costs $249.

Adobe Systems: www.adobe.com; CCEWeb: www.cceweb.com

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